16 Jul Parshas Masei/The Three Weeks: Mitzvas Yeshivas Eretz Yisrael
We are now in the second Shabbos of the mournful Three Weeks, and this Shabbos we conclude the book of Bamidbar, with the reading of the double parshios of Matos-Masei. In Parshas Masei we are commanded: וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּ֥ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וִֽישַׁבְתֶּם־בָּ֑הּ כִּ֥י לָכֶ֛ם נָתַ֥תִּי אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ לָרֶ֥שֶׁת אֹתָֽהּ, You shall take possession of the Land, and you shall settle in it, for to you have I given the Land to possess it (Bamidbar 33:53).
It is during these Three Weeks, known as Bein Ha’Meitzarim (Between the Straits), that we mourn for Churban Batei Mikdash – the destruction of both the first and second Temples – as well as our exile from the Land. To our great misfortune, we are scattered amongst the nations of the world, יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים (Esther 3:8), while our Temple remains in ruins; עַל הַר-צִיּוֹן שֶׁשָּׁמֵם, שׁוּעָלִים הִלְּכוּ-בוֹ (Eicha 5:18).
On the above verse from our parsha, וְהוֹרַשְׁתֶּ֥ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וִֽישַׁבְתֶּם־בָּ֑הּ, the Ramban very powerfully teaches:
והורשתם את הארץ וישבתם בה כי לכם נתתי את הארץ לרשת אתה על דעתי זו מצות עשה היא מצוה אותם שישבו בארץ ויירשו אותה כי הוא נתנה להם, ולא ימאסו בנחלת ה’. ואלו יעלה על דעתם ללכת ולכבוש ארץ שנער או ארץ אשור וזולתם ולהתישב שם, יעברו על מצות ה’… הכתוב הזה היא מצות עשה, ויחזיר המצוה הזו במקומות רבים
You shall take possession of the Land, and you shall settle in it – In my opinion this verse constitutes a mitzvas asei, a positive commandment (and is counted amongst one of the 613 mitzvos in the Torah). Hashem is commanding the people that they should settle in the Land and take possession of it, for He gave it to them, and they should not reject the heritage of G-d! And if it should enter their minds to go and conquer the land of Shinar or Ashur (Assyria) or some other land and settle there instead, they would be in violation of a commandment of G-d…Because this verse is in fact a positive commandment, and the Torah reiterates this mitzvah in many places.
R’ Dr. Abraham J. Twerski writes, “The love that tzaddikim had for the Holy Land was boundless. An example of this is R’ Nosson Zvi Finkel zt’l (1849, Lithuania -1927, J’lem), known far and wide as the Alter of Slabodka, who settled in Hebron. When he found stones on the road he would remove them, citing the Talmud, ‘R’ Chanina removed obstacles (from the paths of Eretz Yisrael)’, and Rashi comments: מתקן מתקליה – משוה ומתקן מכשולי העיר מחמת חיבת הארץ שהיתה חביבה עליו ומחזר שלא יצא שם רע על הדרכים, He would repair its stumbling blocks – Because of his love for the Land, he removed possible obstacles so that one should not have any grounds for making critical remarks about the Land (Kesubos 112a).
“R’ Nosson Zvi said that Eretz Yisrael was one large aron kodesh (holy ark), and all who lived in it were in an atmosphere of holiness. Of those who did not observe the Torah, he would say that they nevertheless have the merit of being in a holy environment. ‘We find a redeeming feature in a Jew who comes to Shul only on Yom Kippur. How much more so should we value Jews who live not only in a Shul, but even in the aron kodesh all year round!’
“During his last illness, when his frail health made it impossible to study Torah, he consoled himself with the knowledge that with every breath he was absorbing the air of the Holy Land, bringing kedusha into his body” (Twerski on Chumash, p.350-351).
An American Jew once came to the home of R’ Avraham Yitzchak Ha’Kohen Kook (1865-1935) zt’l, to receive a farewell blessing before returning to the United States. “Did you do anything to help rebuild the Land?” R’ Kook asked the visitor. “Unfortunately,” the man replied, “I did nothing for the cause, nor do I want to. I visited a number of the new settlements and failed to find even one pioneer who lays tefillin on his arm and head.”
R’ Kook let out a deep sigh, and said, “You are right; it hurts so much to see Jews who do not lay tefillin. But how can you complain about them when you yourself do not lay?” The man was so taken aback that his face turned colors. Trying to hold back tears, he replied, “Does Your Honor suspect that I, too, fail to lay tefillin!?”
“G-d forbid!” replied the Rav. “However, just like these pioneers do not lay tefillin, you do not lay any bricks for the settlement of the Land, a mitzvah that is equal to the entire Torah” (An Angel Among Men, p.430-431).
Today, the words of the Ramban ring loud and clear… If it would enter our minds to settle in “Shinar” or “Ashur”, and to make these lands our “home land,” R”L, we would be in grave transgression of the mitzvas asei of yeshivas Eretz Yisrael. If conditions necessitate that, for the time being, we dwell outside of the Land, let us be sure that the return to our Land – our ONLY Land – is always our end goal.
Standing on the grounds of Auschwitz, March of the Living 2016, R’ Yisrael Meir Lau shlita concluded his annual speech with the following words: “Knowing that this (the Land of Israel) is our place – that we have no other place, we have no other country, no other state, no other homeland, no other feeling of a home but הביתה, הבית שלנו.
“אֶתְהַלֵּךְ, לִפְנֵי ה’ בְּאַרְצוֹת, הַחַיִּים, I will walk before G-d in the land of the living (Ps.116:9). This is my desire, this is my wish, this is my promise, what I want you to feel together with me, אֶתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי ה’ בְּאַרְצוֹת, הַחַיִּים, to walk in the land of the living, ארץ מדינת ישראל.”
אַתָּה תָקוּם, תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן: כִּי-עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ, כִּי-בָא מוֹעֵד – You shall rise up and comfort Zion, for it is time to be gracious to her, for the appointed time has come (Ps.102:14).
May we merit it speedily and in our days, amen v’amen.